Wednesday, June 3, 2009


SEATTLE– The Washington, D.C., metro area is the fittest of America’s 50 most populous metropolitan areas according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) American Fitness Index™ (AFI). ACSM unveiled the 2009 rankings and released the AFI data report, “Health and Community Fitness Status of the 50 Largest Metropolitan Areas,“ during the organization’s Annual Meeting in Seattle. The report, produced in partnership with the WellPoint Foundation, is a snapshot of the state of health and fitness in America’s most populous metropolitan areas.

The AFI data report reflects a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access, as well as community resources and policies that support physical activity. In addition to a data report, AFI is a program designed to help communities identify opportunities to improve the health of their residents and expand community assets to better support active, healthy lifestyles.

“ACSM believes that researching and understanding the scope of the problem is the first step toward developing programs, initiatives and policies to increase physical activity,” according to AFI Advisory Board Chair Walt Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM. “The data evaluated for this report will help identify each metropolitan area’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Based on figures related to healthy lifestyles and physical activity, the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) of Washington-Arlington-Alexandria scored 74.4 in the AFI data report to achieve the top ranking. Metro areas completing the top five were Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Boston and San Francisco, which finished at the top of the inaugural rankings in 2008. Seattle, ACSM’s host city for its 2009 Annual Meeting, along with the surrounding MSA, finished sixth.

The western United States dominated the top 10, with only three cities lying east of the Mississippi River. The nation’s largest cities finished in the middle of the pack with New York at 22nd, Chicago at 25th and Los Angeles at 30th.

The Washington metro area scored above average on the percentage of its citizens who eat five or more fruits and vegetables per day and had a low percentage of smokers. The area also has lower percentages of those with chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, angina or coronary heart disease.

Washington also boasts a high percentage of city land area for parks; higher park-related expenditures per capita; more recreation centers, tennis courts, park units and swimming pools per capita; a high percentage of citizens using public transportation or bicycling/walking to work; a higher-level state requirement for physical education classes; and a higher-than-average number of primary health care providers.

“The WellPoint Foundation is honored to be the founding and ongoing sponsor of the AFI program, and we are committed to improving the health of our nation,” said Wesley Wong, M.D., M.M.M., Regional Vice President and National Medical Director for WellPoint’s affiliated health plans and member of the AFI Advisory Board. “By supporting AFI alongside programs like our Healthy Generations initiative, we are able to identify risk areas and develop partnerships with community organizations promoting local programs designed to reduce areas of concern.”

The metropolitan rankings included in the report are:

Rank/Metropolitan Area/Score

1. Washington, D.C. 74.4

15. Atlanta, Ga. 59.3

22. New York, N.Y. 48.9

25.Chicago, Ill. 47.6

26. Nashville, Tenn. 46.8

33. St. Louis, Mo. 42.5*

35. Dallas, Texas 39.6

37. Memphis, Tenn. 38.5

43. Birmingham, Ala. 32.2

*Scores have been rounded to the nearest tenth of a point resulting in some apparent ties; however, the rankings are based on the full, calculated scores that were not equal in those cases.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One more thing to do: Trim the BMI

One Man's View

You may have missed the obesity epidemic which plagues the country, with all the worry over the swine flu, AIDS, avian flu, etc.

It seems, to be perfectly blunt, Americans are much bigger than they were a few decades ago. But, in this era of political correctness, we do not use words like "fat", "pudgy" or "chubby", and with good reason, particularly when dealing with children. Demeaning or insulting folks is not typically found under the heading of solutions.

And thus the scientifically accurate term "Body Mass Index" has entered our lexicon. Basically, this indicates where you are on a scale which measures how much you weigh compared to your height. To me, it means the same thing as overweight, but health experts think this is a better way to get people to understand the health risks. Folks with high BMIs are increasingly susceptible to any number of serious ailments.

And what is the solution to this problem? Why, the schools of course! Under a new regulation, schools will measure BMIs and send this information back to the parent. What should clearly be between a child, his/her parent, and a physician has now become yet another concern for the schools. Just the cost of copying and mailing these letters in this era of severe budgets is not trivial. But besides that, and besides the fact it is not the proper role for a public school, why waste time? The answer to the rise in collective bulk is obvious. And since they have selected the schools as a means to solve the problem, let's start there. How many schools do you think cut down on Physical Education classes and recess in an attempt to cram every possible minute of the day into test preparation? Which programs do you think were the first to be cut when budgets got lean? When I was in Jr. High, at May A. Gallagher, we took gym classes at Doyle Field and went swimming in the YMCA pool. We had a team for every sport - football, soccer, basketball, baseball and track, and intramurals as well. Homerooms used to square off in whiffle ball tournaments, so you did not need to be a super jock to be able to participate in a fun physical activity. That was back when education officials somehow knew that kids needed time to be kids, that there was only so much knowledge a growing adolescent could absorb in any given time period.

Then some tests came back and showed the U.S. was behind Bahrain or Singapore or some other place where they beat you with a stick if you get below a "B", and panic set in. We needed to test more, to hold teachers "accountable" and reach "standards" to compete with India and China to keep the economy strong. (We're about eight years into the No Child Left Behind era of testing, by the way - how's the economy making out?) Anybody else remember the Presidential Fitness Award? Talk about standards! You strived to be in shape, rather than assume, because round is a shape it meant the same thing. How about the gym show and the obstacle course at MAG? All were free. All are relics of a bygone era.

I also remember drinking Kool-Aid with real, added sugar, staying out until dark without a cell phone and actually getting up from the couch to change the TV station because there was no remote control. Your folks would let you do "nothing" as long as it was done outside. And of course, once you were outside "nothing" quickly became something, because there was no Ipod or Xbox or any of the other electronic games which are so prevalent and which require no physical exertion or acumen beyond supple thumbs. You played SOMETHING because that was all there was to do. People blame fast food joints but caloric intake is not the sole culprit. You can take a lot of calories in if you are burning them off. Few calories are consumed by a body parked in front of video games for four, five or six hours a day. When caloric intake is coupled with inertia on the other end, that's when you have a problem. Our collective technological expertise has made things much easier. Our fiscal policies have lessened opportunities for physical activity. Our testing obsession has done the same. The growing disparity between rich and poor has exacerbated nutritional disadvantages. And what is the solution?

The schools of course. Who else?

Fran Thomas is a life-long Leominster resident and principal of Fitchburg's Memorial Middle School.